TOTD 2018-08-17: The Perils of Short Term Thinking

It is amazing how many problems in the world are caused by short-term thinking. 

I was talking with a liberal (yet anti-SJW) friend of mine.   We were discussing the solutions for the Illinois pension crisis.  Illinois has a flat tax, which makes it difficult for Democrats to get money to pay down the debt, and it also locks in pensions, so that we are cannot cut the pensions even if we go bankrupt.  My friend was adamant that we needed to take one of those options, either adding taxation or cutting pensions, and could not see why one of those had not been adopted as a goal by a party.

I presented a third option: do nothing, loot the treasury, enrich your cronies, and let the ship sink.  It is the option that is most likely to encourage your re-election, and the least difficult choice.  As I have worked in state government, I know this is a common path.  I saw institutions fall apart because people refused to act outside of their immediate self-interest, not even their longer-term self-interest.  It’s killing the goose that gives the golden eggs.

You could also apply this to the media’s approach to Obama and Trump, destroying their reputation for short term gain, or Congress ignoring numerous problems to moan about the latest headline and pass another useless law.

I have heard that one of the more successful rehabilitation measures for drug addicts is to have weekly tests, where showing signs of drug use are punished by spending the weekend in jail.  It is a short-term, immediate punishment for people with a short time horizon.  Any way to apply that to politicians?


4 thoughts on “TOTD 2018-08-17: The Perils of Short Term Thinking”

  1. I often think this is the difference between a vice and a virtue. A virtue can wait and is rewarded later. A vice can’t and finds out later “taking things without paying” gets you into trouble.

    Part of the mess that we are in is there has been no downside for bad actions. When you reward bad behavior you get more of it.

  2. I think some of the enlightenment ideals that have been baked into the cake, so to speak, have facilitated short-term thinking. Empiricism and individualism are all about here and now. You can’t experience 100 years ago or 100 years from now. You were not alive 100 years ago and won’t be 100 years from now.

    There’s nothing that anchors us to the past or deepens our horizons to the future. Without the links to past and future, while valuing our own short term existence and experience, we create short-term time preferences.


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